San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter XV.

LITTLE CAPTAIN DOW was not by any means the only interesting person on board the quarantine ship Shenandoah.

Doctor Hunter, or Doctor "Booze" as Charlie Elasser insatiable thirst, and his unlimited capacity for liquid refreshments.

Like "General" Barnes, Dr. "Booze" was of the opinion that the various brands of liquids were distinguishable from one another only in that some were a little better and more agreeable to the inner man than others. In this opinion the doctor found a warm supporter in the person of Mr. Crane, the old night watchman. Mr. Crane was an old war veteran and a member of the "G.A.R.," in fairly good standing. Owing to Mr. Crane's strict observance of army etiquette, he was nicknamed Mr. "Post." Whenever he spoke of going on watch or on duty, he always said, "I'm going on post," or, "I must be going on me post."

Mike Hernon, the steward, was another character that I must not forget. Mike had occupied the position of steerage steward of the City of New York for some time, and when it was determined to place the passengers, officers, and crew of the ship on board the Shenandoah, Mike was promoted to the position of chief steward of the latter ship.

That the position of steerage steward on a mail steamer of the China line is a lucrative one, and that the salary of forty dollars a month attached thereto is probably the smallest inducement for those who fill those positions in the different ships, is shown by the fact that some steerage stewards accumulate small fortunes in the course of a few voyages. This man Mike, for instance, who could neither read nor write intelligibly, had, during the course of a year or two, accumulated eight thousand or ten thousand dollars, so he admitted. He was subsequently sued for breach of promise by one of his sweethearts in Tar Flat, whom he had discarded after he had made money enough out of the business of peddling liquors, chickens, ducks, etc., etc., to the Chinese passengers, to entitle him to membership in Mr. Greenway's Friday Night Parvenu Cotillion Club.

There are several members of the steerage steward class in Mr. Greenway's Parvenucracy. From the San Francisco city directory 1 copy the following names: "Greenway, A.E., 813 Pacific Avenue; Greenway, John, deck hand, steamer El Capitan; Greenway, E.M., clerk, 4 Nevada Block." The latter is the famous "Ned" who "leads" the Friday Night "Cotillions," and writes up such extraordinary accounts of his own special "triumphs," and publishes those incredible stories in the "society" columns of the Chronicle, for which paper he is a paid reporter.

On the 14th of February, 1888, the City of New York sailed for Japan and China. The tugboat Millen Griffith came alongside the Shenandoah just before the New York sailed and took all the officers and crew back to the steamer, excepting Charlie Elsasser, McMahon, Dr. Hunter, Mr. Crane and myself, and Mike the steward, and enough Chinese cooks and waiters for the steward to get along with.

After Captain Dow went back to his former position of second officer of the City of New York, Mr. Cheesebrough appointed a man named Judd to take his place as captain of the Shenandoah. Mr. Judd's "tastes" ran in the same channel as those of Dr. "Booze" and Mr. Crane. These three old "tanks" managed to keep the steam launch Pup and the late "Commodore" Taylor in active service all the time, running between the Mail dock and the quarantine ship, to supply them with whisky enough to quench their thirst.

His non-committal letter inviting a total stranger to "come on" and pay twenty dollars for an "invitation" to a Parvenu steam beer cotillion.

Every steamer that came into San Francisco from China, during the months of January and February, 1888, was placed in quarantine, by orders of the Board of Health; and the passengers were transferred to quarantine hulks chartered for the purpose. About the first of March all of the Chinese passengers destined for the Hawaiian Islands were taken from the Shenandoah and shipped off to Honolulu on the barkentine Planter.

When the Chinese were ready to start, the Planter was towed alongside the Shenandoah by the Millen Griffith.

"Captain" Tom Driscoll, the man with the historical Burnsides which the humorous reporters have so much fun with in windy weather, was in command of the Millen Griffith, and he gave us an exhibition of his bad seamanship which cost the Pacific Mail Company a good many hundreds of dollars to repair.

This is how he did it: When the Chinese were all aboard the Planter the captain of that vessel informed Driscoll that he was all ready to be towed out to sea.

Driscoll is a representative of that class which imagines that it knows it all and that nobody else knows anything. According to him no one is qualified to hold any position-- even outside of the jurisdiction of political knavery-- if he is not Irish. In the common, everyday phraseology of the careless person, Mr. Driscoll would, in all probability, find himself referred to as a "duffer".

Instead of dropping astern of the Shenandoah with the Planter in tow, as any sensible tugboat coxswain would have done, this beautiful advocate of home rule in Ireland just ordered the single deck hand to "cast off," and then went right ahead, full speed, with the port side of the Planter scraping against the starboard side of the Shenandoah. The result was that the backstays and rigging of the Planter got afoul of the cathead of the Shenandoah, and, as she went forward, her main top gallant mast and mizzen topmast were carried away in the twinkling of an eye.

This accident so completely disabled the Planter, that, instead of proceeding on out to sea, she was compelled to anchor off the Mail dock for several days for repairs; and all on account of the unseamanlike maneuver of this bombastic "Captain" Driscoll.

On the 3d of March, the remainder of the crowd on board the Shenandoah, myself included, was transferred to the old side-wheeler Antelope.

Sunday, March 4, 1888, set in with a strong southwest breeze which continued to increase in velocity until it developed into the heaviest gale known on San Francisco Bay in many years. The old Antelope had long since been condemned as unseaworthy, but the Pacific Mail Steamship Company considered her quite good enough for a quarantine ship. Human life and the personal property of employees are not considered of any consequence by steamship and railroad companies--Pacific Mail and Southern Pacific for examples. We were anchored off Butchertown, near the Shenandoah and the Alice Garratt and the rest of the quarantine fleet, when the southwester set in, but by noon we had drifted about halfway to Oakland.

We had only one little kedge anchor and a few fathoms of chain, which would have been barely sufficient to keep the old boat from drifting away with the tide, even had there been no wind. Imagine our dangerous position with a seventy-knot gale blowing off shore; and, to make matters worse, we sprung a leak, and then the steam pump broke down, and all hands had to turn to on the hand pump to keep the boat from sinking. All this time we were drifting gradually out in the direction of Goat Island. The seas rose to a height never before known on the bay, and it began to look as if it were only a question of time when our cable would part, in which case we would have swung around broadside on to the wind, and in the trough of the sea, and nothing could have saved us from capsizing and going to the bottom of the treacherous bay with all on board.

At noon we were fully two miles from the wharves, with the wind and seas increasing all the time. One of the Spreckels' tugs, the Relief, attempted to come alongside to tow us in to the wharf, but the seas ran so high that she dared not come closer than speaking distance for fear of a collision; and then we had no means of getting our anchor up, so there we were, at the mercy of the storm.

About one o'clock in the afternoon our attention was called to the Alice Garratt, another boat similar to the Antelope, with the passengers of the City of Peking on board.

The Alice Garratt had parted her cables and was drifting before the wind. For a time we forgot our own perilous position while we watched the doomed vessel as she drifted away. Several tugs put out to her assistance, but they could do nothing in such a fearful sea.

Suddenly, and without the slightest warning, the wind veered to the south, and the bay immediately became a turbulent mass of choppy seas and driftwood. The Alice Garratt, in obedience to the wind, began to drift in toward the docks. She gave one big roll as she swung around, and her smokestack went by the board. A few minutes later she ran afoul of the big American ship St. Paul, and carried away the jib boom and all the rest of the head gear of that vessel. Then she drifted along almost on her beams' ends for a minute, when she was caught, broadside-on, by a mountainous sea which finished her forever. She went clean down on her beams' ends and turned bottom upward.

Fortunately for everybody on board, she capsized near the Steward Street wharf, and, what would have been classed as a miracle in Dublin, all hands escaped with their lives; but they lost everything else, including clothes and baggage, which went down with the wreck.

It not seemed as though it were only a question of a little while when the Antelope would share the same fate; but the storm began to moderate toward sunset, and the Millen Griffith (with a crew on board this time) came out and got our anchor up, and toward us in alongside of the Mail dock, where we remained three days.

On the 7th, Dr. McAllister and the Board of Health met in council, and decided to release us from quarantine.

During the voyage from Hong Kong to San Francisco, the surgeon of the City of New York had vaccinated all hands. My vaccination took splendidly, and I had to carry my arm in a sling from the effects of it for a long time. It was almost well, however, when I got it hurt during the storm of the 4th, and, as a result, it came very near costing me my arm. Old Dr. Hunter was "full" all the time, and when I spoke to him about my arm, the old idiot only laughed at me. However, when I got out of quarantine boat I called upon the United States Naval Surgeon at the Appraisers' building, and that gentleman sent me to the Marine Hospital immediately, for treatment. Dr. Sawtelle, U. S. N., the surgeon in charge of the hospital, informed me that had I waited another day before seeking reliable medical aid, I would in all probability have lost the use of my arm altogether. As it was, I was confined to the hospital until the 22d, and even then Dr. Sawtelle cautioned me to be very careful and not hurt my arm over again, before he would let met go.

One thing about my trip to the hospital which was very consoling was this: Dr. Sawtelle informed me that owing to the violent effects of the vaccination, it would not be necessary for me to ever be vaccinated again.

When the City of New York sailed for China, Captain Searle left orders for those whom he detailed to look after the quarantine ship, myself included, to stand by to return to duty on the steamer immediately upon her return to San Francisco. These orders were left at the main office of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. and were communicated at once, so I learned a long time afterward, to someone on board the quarantine ship. For some mysterious reason or other, the person who received the orders neglected to inform me that I was mentioned in them. Mr. Judd, who was in charge of the Shenandoah, and undoubtedly knew all about it, took particular pains to give me to understand that Captain Searle had said nothing about my being expected to return to the City of New York, and furthermore, Mr. Judd intimated that my position on the ship had been filled by a gentleman who was there to stay.

I was younger and a good deal more credulous at that time than I am now, and I did not even think of inquiring at the office, to find out the reason of this curious piece of business, and then I was sick besides; so when I left the quarantine ship to 'go to the hospital, my mind was made up to not report for duty again on the City of New York.

When I left the hospital I went in search of another position,or, as some sailors would say, I "went coasting for a ship"; or, as the old"Forty-niners" would express it, I "went prospecting." At any rate, I went down to the foot of Market Street and started to walk up toward the Oregon dock.

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License